Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“Crossing the Division”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 14 August 2016,  the thirteen Sunday after Pentecost, by Rune Nielsen. The scripture readings that day were Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Isaiah 5:1-7, Luke 12:49-56.

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…” Jesus’ words in the twelfth chapter of Luke are scary—there’s no doubt about that. The Jesus who was the gentle shepherd, the man who shone with divine love, the one who said ‘let the children come to me’—it seems that Jesus is now telling his disciples that he is leading society towards chaos and destruction. Differences between people, whether religious, political, or economic, can lead us to division, a state of tension, distrust, and intolerance. Division is painful. It can give us feelings of fear, suspicion, rejection, and hate. In fact, the corresponding passage in Matthew 10:34-36 uses the word “sword” instead of “division.”  Truly, division can wound us deeper than any cut.

Jesus is no stranger to division. With every teaching he gave, every act of healing he performed, some people chose to distrust him or despise him. In the fifth chapter of Mark, Jesus delivers a man from demons by sending the evil spirits into the bodies of pigs, which then drown themselves in the sea. The healed man is grateful and becomes a follower of Jesus, but the other people in the town get bitter about the loss of the pigs and insist that Jesus leave. Another example of division can be seen in the fifth chapter of Luke when Jesus heals a paralytic. Jesus forgives the man’s sins and the Pharisees get angry, accusing him of blasphemy. While the Pharisees regard Jesus with disgust, the rest of the watching crowd is happy about what Jesus has done, and praise God. And there are many more stories of division springing up from the words and acts of Jesus. As stated by a Bible commentator, in today’s gospel reading “Jesus is not affirming nor encouraging the division but naming the reality that was occurring around him.” Jesus challenged religious leaders as well as believers to open their minds and hearts to his message of love for all people. This upset the status quo, which led to division.

Jesus did not say we should make division. He did not teach his followers to avoid anyone who thought differently. Jesus reached out to Samaritans, people whose practices deviated from the Jewish standard. Jesus made friends with criminals. He defended people of low social standing. When some people see differences, they put up social walls, leading to division. When God sees division, he passes through the barriers.

Differences occur as people adopt different beliefs, but division is not God’s goal. In today’s gospel reading Jesus is speaking out of a context of anguish and strife as he sees the division happening around him. This stands in contrast to how at the time of Jesus’ birth the angels were singing of peace to come, as stated at the beginning of Luke’s gospel. And when the gospel ends, the resurrected Jesus greets his disciples not with a message of division, but with “Shalom,” a word of peace.*

Since the beginning Christ’s followers have found themselves divided from other people, and so do we today. Some of us come from divided households where it is not two against three, but four against one and one against four. Painful, heart-aching division. Is this the cost of following Jesus? In drastic situations of fierce disagreement, the people we love may separate themselves from us, and other times we may feel forced to separate from them. Sometimes we cannot prevent separation, and once it happens we may feel broken and scattered from the division.

We are aware that in Hong Kong and many other parts of the world Christians are a minority group. Even if your whole family is Christian, you likely know people at school or work who are not, and probably have friends who are non-Christian. How should we view them?

When we look at the world, we know our Christian lives are different. Our beliefs are different. Our practices are different. Considering all of that, is it the fate of Christians to shut ourselves away from non-Christians? To flaunt our differences and only associate with people who believe the same things we do? Should we retreat behind the line of the divide in our own societies? I’ve met a Christian family in Hong Kong who only allows their children to associate with other Christians. Their children, who go to Christian schools, are not allowed to have non-Christian friends or go to social activities where non-Christians are present. When they see a doctor or dentist, they only choose ones that are Christian. Clearly, they are afraid of non-Christians. They use the differences between them and others to build up division.

But differences don’t have to lead to division.

When I went on a study trip to Indonesia last summer, I met a woman who lived in what could have been a divided household. She and her parents were devoutly Christian, and living with them were her devoutly Muslim aunt, uncle, and cousins. The Muslims did all the things devoted Muslims do—they worshipped at a mosque, fasted during Ramadan, prayed to Allah five times a day, and so on. The Christians did all the things devoted Christians do—they attended services at a church, read the Bible, and prayed to God. And all of these relatives live peacefully side by side, enjoying their life together. They respect each other and do not let their differences tear them apart into division. The Christian woman told me her views on her Muslim relatives. “We pray for them, as we would pray for all other people we know, both Christians and non-Christians. And we keep living our Christian lives in a display of God’s love for all people.”

Although not all families of mixed faiths are able to live in harmony like that, the example of the household in Indonesia reminds us that differences do not have to drive people away from each other, whether at home or in broader society. It also highlights the importance of prayer, taking your concerns about division to God and trusting God. While interacting with non-Christians you might not see conversions, but that doesn’t mean God has abandoned our non-Christian relatives, friends, and neighbors.

In today’s gospel reading and in our lives, differences themselves are not the real problem. According to the preacher Erick J. Thompson, we would be mistaken to focus on the differences we face. There will always be differences in all areas of life because people will disagree with each other and have different opinions. The real issue at hand is how we respond to division. Some Christians have a zeal for bringing people from one side of the divide to the other. Of course we want everyone to know God loves them! But if we are forceful about God’s message, we will only widen the gap. Thompson says that “the gospel preached into the life of an individual person will do its work, and we are left to trust that it is God at work, and resist our attempts to control the outcome.”

Of course, being Christian does not make us perfect. Jesus alone is the perfecter of our faith, not ourselves. At times we Christians are like the ancient Israelites spoken of in the book of Isaiah. Through Isaiah, God said that they were like a vineyard expected to produce edible grapes but instead produced wild ones. The Israelites were God’s chosen people, yet even they were not perfect. Christians are not superior to other people. In our own religion we worship within differences—Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic. Yet despite these differences, we have been able to cooperate to do great things. Every year on Unity Sunday representatives from different churches in Hong Kong come together for a joint worship service. Speakers from Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches all contribute to the Christian radio programs overseen by the Religious Broadcasting and Television Advisory Committee. And some churches are carrying out joint volunteer efforts at Christian NGOs. If we can work together with people who have denominational differences, then surely we can also work together with non-Christians.

Being around non-Christians can provide us with opportunities to reflect on our own faith. It makes us ask important questions we need to answer for ourselves and those we share our faith with. Questions include: What do I value about Christianity? Why have I chosen Christianity instead of another religion? How can I communicate Christianity to other people? When we answer these questions, we can find that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit are bringing us closer to God.

Yes, there is division, but it doesn’t have to prevail over us. We can overcome division from God’s perspective, a perspective of peace for all people and prayer for reconciliation. The divide is not impassible and it is not permanent. God passes through the division and cares for Christians and non-Christians alike. On the other side of any division, Christ is also there among the nonbelievers, acting in their lives, and patiently waiting for them to follow him. God does not give up on non-Christians!

We are not always in control of division, but God’s love has no boundaries. Let us live in that love and share it with all.

*idea taken from

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, August 14, 2016

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